Lightning flashes

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I was reminded tonight of something that happened to me once. Something that might fill most people with immense fear. I suppose I technically could add it to the list of times that I’ve almost died, but for me (and one complete stranger), I don’t think of it that way at all – and it was one of the most incredible mornings of my life.

I lived in Florida at the time. I grew up there, but had gone away for many years. I came back, helped a bit, and screwed up a bit. I was still trying to find a place to fit back in, in the place that used to be my home, and I had found a job at a horse stable – the kind of place that keeps stalls that other people rent to keep their horses. It was rather far away from where I lived, and it paid nothing at all. At that time I had little ‘professional’ horse experience and wanted more, so I took the job despite the low pay and crazily early hours.

Horses get up early, you know. Because of the distance, I had to get up even earlier to be there in time to make sure they got their breakfast on schedule.

I had a pretty long commute. There were two bridges to cross. Here’s the first one, courtesy of this place (as I have no photos of my own). Please let me know if you don’t wish me to use your image.

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It’s not terribly arched, as you can see, and as evidenced by a barge smashing the hell out of it this month. But in such a flat place, even a little bit of height meant you could see a long distance. What I could see ahead of me was a massive black and grey storm wall lit by flashes of lightning.

Oh, how I wish we had digital cameras in 1998. It was amazing, and I was about to drive into it.

It was six, seven miles from that bridge to the next one. I waited, fascinated, as I drove straight into the storm – with beautiful Florida dawn sunshine all around me, sparkling off the white sand on either side of the one-and-only road I could take to my destination – the dark wall looming in front of me, blasts of lightning forking down (up, really) without cease.

I wanted to post a picture of that next bridge, but everything I find online breaks my heart. The ‘good’ pictures all face away from my old home town now, as it has been made so ugly by unchained development. I feel somewhat physically sick after looking at the photos online. So we won’t go there visually.

My bridge (the one I remember being built, the one I could walk to from my house and played under as a child) has a higher arch than the other one in the photo. An arch that, as a driver, came at you as a vertical climb. But before I reached the bridge, I had entered the storm front and was inside the black. The rain was so heavy and intense, there was nothing my wipers could ever do to make a difference. It would have hurt your skin to stand in this rain, I am sure.

It was a thunderstorm the likes of which I had never seen. Usually FL storms are afternoon ones, over and gone before they do much more than raise the humidity another few degrees. I wasn’t used to being up that early, so perhaps it happened more than I knew.

The lightning was now so frequent that I couldn’t even tell that I was even on a bridge. I had lost the ability to see the lines on either side of the road. My vision was of nothing but sheets of rain lit by stroboscopic flashes so close together I had to trust to instinct to keep moving – stopping wasn’t an option when anyone could have been behind me and there hadn’t been a ‘side of the road’ for anyone to pull on to for safety for miles. I couldn’t stop, as I couldn’t be sure someone wasn’t about to ram me from behind and send me off the bridge entirely.

What I knew for sure is that I was about to be a single human in a metal box at the crest of the highest point around for miles, with lightning striking so often it wasn’t seconds, not even one second, between strikes.

What could I do about it? Not a dammed thing!

It was the most exciting and joyous moment of my life. I wasn’t scared, not one bit. I looked death in the face right then and there, and I screamed, shouted, and sung nonsense in jubilation, as I smashed my right fist against the roof of my truck over and over – and I did that to get as close to the highest bit of metal that I could, so the connection to pure voltage would be lessened (I looked for a dent later). My heart and my head shouted this dare to nature, “Come and get me, here I am, and I choose this way to die if this is my time! Yes! Let me go out happy and amazed and screaming for joy!”

Well. Clearly I didn’t cop it that morning. I rolled down the other side of the bridge into town, and into places where the buildings and telephone poles were much, much higher than me and my little Dodge Dakota. But I wasn’t just small and low anymore – I wasn’t alone.

The traffic lights were still working – somehow all that electric madness hadn’t hit anything of importance and the power was still on. I stopped for a red light, still in the left lane (the ‘fast lane’ in the US – the way I drive I usually stay in that lane). As I sat there quivering and coming down off of my adrenaline high, another car came to rest to my right, waiting as I was for the light to change. It was just us two, no other cars to be seen in any direction.

A streak of pure energy lit up the intersection as an electric/telephone pole was struck by lightning. It was on my side of the road, but on the other side of the intersection. I screamed again, and again for joy – not fear – I still thought I was going to die that day and it was, indeed, a good day to die. I know I wasn’t afraid, because I immediately looked to the only other witness of this near-brush with mortality – the man in the car next to me.

I had a huge, huge grin on my face, and so did he. I let loose another of my barbaric yawps, and so did he. And we grinned at each other, sharing the moment of ‘omygoddidyouseethat?’ until the light changed and we went our separate ways.

I suppose these days I’m not likely to die by lightning. But if I do? Be assured I will go with a smile on my face.

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36 responses »

  1. Once, when I was angry and massively frustrated, I went running along the local bike path, which has been made the site of — gawd help us — a marching legion of high-tension wire towers. It was already raining with lightning and thunder when I set out, and I could just envision the apocalyptic effect of a strike on one of those scaffoldings. It was sluicing down so that you couldn’t see — I was drenched before the half mile mark — and lightning hit in the woods on one side, then a longer way away on the other. I threw up my arms and yelled “Stop nickel and diming me! I dare you!!” No one else was whacked enough to be there on an afternoon like that fortunately so there are no witnesses, and neither did the lightning home in any closer.

    But as a death, I’d take it. I’ve been close enough to a lightning strike twice in my life to feel my hairs lift, and I had already decided then, I’d take it.

    I get you.

    • I like! It’s such a feeling, isn’t it? ‘Ah, g’wan then, if you think you’re so tough!’ And to mean it πŸ™‚

      We’re both still here – does that make you and I tougher than lightning? 😎

  2. What a great story!!!

    I adore our lightning… ADORE IT! As a baby my father used to take me out on the porch to watch the Central Florida storms, so it’s in my blood. πŸ™‚ Even when I didn’t live in FLA, I lived in the tropics where the storms were just as big & bad. BUT… My mother was in a (school) hallway where ball lightning hit, rolling down the hall β€” terrifying. Fortunately the kids had left. And, I’ve known people who have actually been struck by it, and whose companions didn’t survive. It’s beautiful, but ya gotta respect it in all its glory!

    • I miss storms! About 3 times a year I might hear a rumble and realise it isn’t an airplane. Sigh. I think my hubby would pee himself like Dianda, thought – not being accustomed.

      My dad saw ball lightning rolling and hopping along the sand dune in the same 7-mile stretch, that must have been something. Some people don’t even believe it exists!

      • Ohhhhh it exists, ball lightning. πŸ™‚ The conditions just have to be right!

        I’ve had friends that have had lightning come through the SHOWERS. When I lived in an apt, out of 4 units, lightning managed its way to my phone line β€” it was fried, and my closet was actually *burned.* It was my birthday, too… Good thing I wasn’t on the phone!

        Lightning is #@(#( amazing.

  3. What a great story! I love southern storms. Nothing compares to them. Now, the bridge on the other hand and not being able to see to get across it…no. That is not my cup of tea. However I do completely understand the adrenaline rush, since I’ve always wanted to be a storm chaser. Too bad they didn’t have digital cameras. That would have been a great sight to see.

  4. Was the second bridge the skyway one? I was reading about that yesterday. Looks evil. I think I’d freak out driving up it. And down it. Much worse than thunder and lightning. Mediterranean storms can be … intense, if not tropical in nature.

    • No, it’s just a normal bridge with a hump for sailboats to pass under. Nothing exceptional about it (except to me).
      Just googled the Skyway…Bob Graham, really? Ha! That wouldn’t scare me either, I used to commute across the Pensacola Bay Bridge earlier in my life. Fun part with the P’Cola one was the chance some eejit would come across going the wrong way – if you google it you’ll see there is nowhere to go when that happens.
      Would your weather be more like sporadic monsoons?

      • No. It’s not that tropical, although Gib is often referred to as having a sub-tropical climate. In Spain, it’s just straight southern mediterranean. No rain, usually, just overhead loud thunder and lightning. In Australia, for example, it was often with rain and/or wind. Bit like the UK. Med storms are often the hot summer dry ones.

    • There was certainly nothing I could do about it! It makes me happy that I chose to enjoy the heck out of the experience instead of cowering in fear. You just never know how you’ll react to something until you are tested!

      • Very true. Once I almost drowned, and when the waves were driving me down into the sea so that I couldn’t tell up from down and kept pounding me down again whenever I did manage to raise my head, my thought was ,”Oh, this is how it’s going to end.” Finally, I managed to swim away and crawl onto shore. There was no one around to help me, and for about a week after I didn’t care about anything. One just never knows.

        • I’ve come close to death a few times, but never in such an immediate way. I’m interested in why you didn’t care about anything for a while – was it because you realised how little most of it meant?
          My husband also almost drowned, as a child. He was rescued. He said it was panic panic, and then very peaceful when he finally gave up fighting. What I never have understood is that he has a fear of water still…he can only bring back the panic and not the peace.

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